Most of us know someone who experienced carpal tunnel syndrome, a compressed nerve at the wrist that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and arm. Because carpal tunnel syndrome is so common, misconceptions about it are common too.
Timothy Harman, DO, orthopedic surgeon and assistant director of the Hand Surgery Fellowship at Kettering Health Network, debunks many of these beliefs.
Myth: Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs because of overuse, and if you do repetitive work like typing, you’ll get it.
Repetitive motion may exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome, but only in individuals who are genetically predisposed to the condition.
“It’s really that a person is born to have carpal tunnel syndrome or not,” Dr. Harman says. “If they’re doing those repetitive activities, they’ll get the syndrome younger or may have more severe symptoms. But if you’re not born to get it, you can be on the computer 24/7 and never develop carpal tunnel syndrome.”
Myth: If your wrists ache, it’s carpal tunnel syndrome.
“It’s a common condition to hear about, so people assume they have it,” says. Dr. Harman.
There are a lot of things that cause pain or dysfunction in the hands and wrists, so have your symptoms assessed by a physician for a proper diagnosis.
Common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, tingling and frequently experiencing the hands “falling asleep” while driving, reading, texting or sleeping.
“It’s much more of a numbness or tingling than an activity-related pain,” says Dr. Harman.
Myth: Surgical treatment means missing work for a long time.
A few different surgical techniques can be used to correct carpal tunnel syndrome, and each has a fairly quick return-to-work time.
“The myth is based on the original 8-inch incision, which is now rarely performed,” says Dr. Harman.
Now, whether your surgery is traditional, endoscopic or ultrasound-guided, you can return to work as soon as you feel ready, which is usually anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks.
Myth: The surgery doesn’t work, or a second procedure is often required.
If you talk to a friend who received the procedure before advancements, you may get the wrong idea.
“Historically, it used to be such an invasive surgery that we had people wait until they had extensive damage they couldn’t recuperate from,” Dr. Harman says.
With minimally invasive options, the philosophy for the procedure is the sooner, the better.
“The sooner we get to the nerve once symptoms start, the healthier it will be,” Dr. Harman says. “The nerve can recuperate as long as there is no death to portions of it.”
If you get the procedure in a reasonable amount of time with no complications, the surgery will be successful for the rest of your life 99% of the time.
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